Learning social skills can be difficult, especially as we get older. When we are young children, our parents and teachers facilitate our learning of social skills. When we become teenagers and young adults, the required social skills change dramatically. We are expected to learn social skills implicitly. Social skills are not typically broken down into concrete steps, even though behaviorally they can be broken down and taught explicitly. There are few programs that teach the concrete steps involved in learning social skills.
A great option for social skills training in San Diego is the PEERS program. PEERS (Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills) is a group based social skills training program for motivated teens and young adults that focuses on social skills related to making and keeping friends, developing romantic relationships, and managing conflict and rejection, among other foundational social skills. PEERS is used clinically with a range of adolescent and young adult populations including: Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), depression, anxiety, and other social challenges. The PEERS program teaches ecologically valid social skills - social behavior exhibited by socially successful individuals. As such, the program may be used with any adults or adolescents interested in learning how to develop close meaningful relationships.
Social skills training is very common for younger children with ASD, but there are very few programs for adolescents and adults with ASD and other social challenges. Many of the programs that are available are not created around evidence based curricula. For example, there are social group opportunities for people to meet others, but these typically do not include direct instruction of social skills. Additionally, other social skills programs don’t typically taylor the teaching methods to the cognitive style of individuals with ASD, or adapt the language to match the communication style of the individual.
The PEERS program is a unique social skills training program for several reasons. First, the PEERS program incorporates participants’ parents and or social coaches in the treatment process. Simultaneously occurring social coaching groups that meet in tandem with teen and young adult groups assist participants in the development and maintenance of relationships. Social coaching outside of the treatment setting is provided by caregivers including: parents, adult siblings, other family members, life coaches, job coaches, and peer mentors. Social skills will more easily generalize to other settings and improvements will be more durable over time because social coaches can assist in the development of social skills in natural settings, help with weekly socialization assignments, and provide assistance with finding a source of friends. The incorporation of social coaches positively impacts outcomes and helps significantly in generalization of social skills outside of the clinical setting.
Second, the PEERS program teaches ecologically valid social skills. This means that the social skills that are taught in this program are what people actually do. The original study that forms the basis of the PEERS program did in depth research about what socially competent and accepted individuals do. This is important because while we may think we know what ‘good’ social skills are, some of our guesses may be ecologically wrong. By relying on research supported evidence, we can be sure that the social skills that are taught in this program are the skills we actually want to be practicing in real life. The rules and steps of social behavior that were researched allows us to focus on the most common social errors committed by those with social challenges, learn the core social skills needed to make and keep friends and develop romantic relationships, and how socially accepted individuals handle peer conflict and rejection.
Finally, because the PEERS program was originally created based on evidence and empirical research, we can look at outcome data to see the positive impact that the program has both short and long term. Both the original and replication studies of the PEERS program found the following outcomes associated with participation in the program: improvement in overall social skills, social responsiveness, and empathy, increased frequency of hosted and invited get-togethers, increase in social skill knowledge, social motivation, assertion, and cooperation, and decreases in loneliness and autistic-like behaviors. Data was also collected 1-5 years post treatment and showed sustained treatment outcomes, suggesting that skills were generalized over time and across settings.
The PEERS social skills training program is different from other available treatment options for a variety of reasons. The incorporation of social coaches, emphasis on generalization of skills, and the level of structure all combine to create an incredible program that really works. The PEERS program is a fantastic and effective social skills training program available in San Diego, and would benefit any teen or young adult motivated to improve their social skills.
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